After setting our hearts on a Baltic cruise this summer but not finding any really good value deals, we were finally tempted by a 12 day Mediterranean and Holylands cruise on the new Celebrity Silhouette, which was being promoted in a special 3 day sale in May. Even though we had visited 75% of the ports on previous cruises, we decided it would be nice to re-visit them and see Israel as well. Normally we would reserve an inside cabin as we don't see the point of paying a premium for an outside cabin that we would normally not spend any time in. During the 3 day sale however, an outside balcony cabin was being offered with a price difference of only £100.00 per person so we decided that the small difference could be justified in this case. After booking, we joined the CC Rollcall and started to get to know some of our future cruise companions. We signed up for the Celebrity Connections party and started looking forward to our cruise. Using the Rollcall, we managed to arrange a shared minibus transfer from Rome airport to the port and got valuable tips for booking excursions in Israel. We also picked up many tips, for example stopping at a supermarket on the way to the ship to buy bottled water and on our journey to the port, our driver didn't mind pulling over so that we could all jump out to buy a six pack and a bottle of wine to have on our balcony at sailaway.
On the departure day, we arrived at the port around midday and went immediately to the check-in area where we were allowed to board. The check-in process only took a few minutes and we were on the ship in no time. I did hear complaints of extensive queues and boarding times in excess of 1 hour later in the day though. At the entrance to the ship we were greeted with waiters offering wine or juice and then shown to the lifts. We were told that the cabin was ready but when we got there it was still being prepared. Our cabin attendant did however let us leave the water and our hand luggage in the cabin so that we could go and have lunch and take a look around the ship. The Oceanview Cafe was quite chaotic as it seemed that everyone had headed straight there, but we found seats on the outside rear deck and enjoyed a lovely varied lunch. The Oceanview Cafe is made up of many different stations to avoid queues and in general it was very well organized. The different stations included pasta and pizza, salads, bakery, Carvery, Mexican food, Indian curries, hot station, desserts, Ice Creams and beverages. Around 1.30 it was announced that the staterooms were ready so we went to investigate. We had been allocated cabin 6305 on a guarantee basis and this was the very last cabin at the end of the corridor. The walk did become a bit tedious after a while but the extra exercise helped to walk off a few pounds over the duration of the cruise! The cabin was very light and spacious and the dEcor was cool and classy. As we unpacked we found plenty of storage space including a double wardrobe with plenty of hangers, three large deep drawers and a long shelf unit above the bed. It was also no problem to stow the empty cases under the bed which I have not usually been able to do. The bathroom was the biggest surprise as this was more spacious than on other ships and included a large walk in shower with double sliding doors, washbasin, toilet and a large wall unit with lots of storage as well as two small drawers. The shower was a fixed head with different settings and the water pressure and temperature were perfect. The only complaints would be the lack of shower gel (only blocks of soap were provided) and the bathroom sink tap was silly in my opinion as it was not close enough to the basin and spilt water everywhere. The in-cabin t.v (32" lcd) had many channels including BBC World and Sky News as well as various movie and entertainment channels. There was also a music section with all kinds of music choices as well as the usual channel showing re-runs of recent shows and activities on the ship. One thing to note is that there was only one European and one US power point so it may be an idea to take along a double adapter for charging appliances etc. The mini bar was initially locked but could be opened by the stateroom attendant if required. The safe was of adequate size to fit in our notebook computer and other valuables. The balcony of the cabin was accessed by a sliding patio door and was larger than expected. There were two adjustable chairs/loungers and a small round table. There was total privacy and lots of peace and quiet. We never encountered anyone smoking on their balcony (and in general the smoking policy on the ship seemed fair to us as non-smokers).
The afternoon was spent familiarizing ourselves with this huge ship. Starting on deck 3 at guest services we worked our way upwards exploring all of the bars, lounges, and shopping arrears. The Hideaway seemed to be one of the more popular areas on the ship during the voyage and seemed to be well-liked. There were an assortment of unusual chairs and seating areas and coffee and tea dispensers were available. Above the Hideaway was the well-stocked library and again this seemed to be well used by people reading and using their laptop computers. The ilounge on deck 6 did have many Apple computers available to use for those who did not bring their own, although the internet rates did seem a bit on the steep side with the ship advertising clearly that connections speeds were not comparable to those on land. iPads were also available for hire by the day or for the entire cruise and judging by the number of people carrying them around, this service seemed to be popular. Once up on deck 12 we came across the large stylish pool area with one adult and one children's pool as well as four Jacuzzis. Initially we appeared that there would be plenty of space and sunbeds once we got underway (that later proved to be an inaccurate judgment!). The sunbeds had comfortable cushions on them and the towels were self-service without having to check them in and out with your seapass (as with RCI). Double beds and other relaxing chairs and loungers were available in a variety of styles which was a nice touch. We noticed that there were clear signs up next to the adult pool and two adjoining Jacuzzis advising that they were for the use of guests over 16 only and that there was to be no jumping, diving or horseplay and that infants and persons in diapers were not to use them under any circumstances. These signs proved to be useless as they were blatantly ignored throughout the cruise and these rules were never enforced by the poolside staff. This became very annoying throughout the cruise as it was impossible to swim in the pool without being hit by a ball or jumped on by children being oblivious to others around them and when complaining to guest services we were told that there was nothing they could do if people chose to ignore the signs. It is worth noting that this particular cruise was made up of 80% non-English speaking clients (French/Spanish/Italian/German) and that the signs were only printed in English! Moving further through deck 12 we came to the indoor solarium which was also reserved as an adult-only space. This was very elegant with lovely comfortable sunbeds, squishy mattresses and luxurious towels. The only problem was that it was always cold (because of the air con..) and the water in the pool too was cool to say the least. The dancing water feature was a lovely touch and there were another two hot-tubs for adult use. A couple of times we did see kids trying to swim in the indoor pool and they were asked to leave by the pool attendants. I'm therefore not sure why the same could not be done in the outdoor adults pool?? Through the solarium we came to the Aqua Spa with all kinds of different treatments being advertised and there was a free prize draw being advertised. Next were the changing rooms and men's and women's saunas and lastly the fully equipped fitness centre which was open from 6am to 11pm. The equipment was very hi-tech and on the first morning it took around 10 minutes on the elliptical trainer before I was up and running.
We were booked for the late dinner seating at 8.45pm and our booking confirmation said that we would be seated on a table of 8. When we were shown to our table we had been given a table of 6 with the other 4 people being Russian people who only spoke very basic English. It transpired that they had another two friends who had been placed on a table for two opposite. We therefore out of courtesy offered to exchange tables so that the three couples could sit together. We really did not want to sit alone so at the end of the meal we asked the maitre'd if there was another table we could change to for the following evening where there would be some English or American people we could speak to. We were informed that as the cruise was so full of Europeans, there were no other suitable tables unless we wanted to switch to early sitting. We therefore decided to stay where we were. The following night was formal night and due to the total lack of atmosphere in the dining room, we decided that we would try the buffet restaurant the following evening so that we could try to meet other guests. On the first morning we decided to check out the Oceanview Cafe for breakfast and we found a great breakfast selection to suit all tastes. Once again the buffet was arranged with different stations and everything felt quite organized. Throughout the cruise, we loved taking our plates out to the open-air seating area and watching the wake of the ship. After breakfast we still had not received out invitations for the Connections welcome get -together and we were excited to meet all of the people we had been chatting online with over the last few months, we paid a visit to Guest Services to find out the time and location of the get-together. We were shocked to be told that the party had taken place at 10 o'clock that morning and that we had missed it and that we must have misplaced the invitation. I insisted that we had not received any invitation in our stateroom but we received no apology or any gesture to compensate for our disappointment. Unfortunately, even by the end of the cruise, we had not managed to meet any of our online 'friends'. This, along with our disappointment about the dining room, did not put us in great spirits for the start of the cruise. On day four, we met some lovely people in one of the bars and were invited to join their table in the dining room being as they had three spare seats. We took them up on their offer and had some great evenings in the Grand CuvEe. The food we found to be just OK really - nicely presented and relatively tasty just nothing to get really excited about. The menu consisted of two sides, the first being classic favourites which were on offer every evening and the other side being the specials of the evening. As well as the main dining room, we did try the open buffet a couple of times in the evening but found that very disappointing compared to the breakfasts and lunches. The choice in the evenings was not good at all, and in the end we stopped going apart from a midnight snack after the second seating shows. The only one of the specialty restaurants that we tried was the Lawn Club Grill which was really enjoyable. Two of us decided to get 'interactive' and it was a lot of fun. The steaks and seafood were really tasty and of course well-cooked!
The entertainment on board was fairly standard; during the day there was the usual mix of different trivia quizzes, port talks and other general activities and
in the evenings a fairly good mix of shows and musical events. We thoroughly enjoyed all of the musical acts and a special mention has to be given to Aquadio (4 piece acappella group) and Allegria Strings ( a 3 piece string group from Ukraine). The Broadway show was well performed and the comedian Neil Austin was as hilarious as he was on the Voyager of the Seas in 2009.
Port1 - Santorini. As we had visited Santorini previously we decided not to do any tours and instead we waited for everyone to go ashore and then went across ourselves. We walked up the path to the top of the hill rather than taking the donkeys or cable car which we had done before. The walk took approximately 30 minutes and shouldn't be too much trouble for anyone who is relatively fit. The walk back down took approximately 10 minutes only. As we were there until 10pm, we had the opportunity to watch the sunset from the top of the cliff which was absolutely amazing.
Port 2 - Kusadasi. As we had already done Ephesus on a previous land based holiday in Turkey we decided to just have a walk around the town. There's nothing much really worth noting about Kusadasi but if anyone has any questions I will try to answer them.
Port 3 - Ashdod. Here we arranged two separate full-day tours through Guided Tours Israel prior to traveling and arranged to meet their rep at 8am next to the ship. The first day was to Masada & The Dead Sea which were both great and the next day to Jerusalem & Bethlehem.
Port 4 - Haifa. Initially we planned to visit Tel Aviv on the train but after various bad reports we decided to stay in Haifa. First we visited the Baha'I Gardens to take some photos of the city and then descended back to the train station where we took the train two stops to the Haifa beach. I must honestly say this is one of the best beaches I've ever been to and this was one of the nicest afternoons of the entire holiday.
Port 5 - Athens. Again we had visited Athens twice before so just decided to take the new hop on hop off bus from Piraeus port into Athens. This costs €20 per person. There were stops at all of the major sights so we got off at the Acropolis, The Greek Parliament and the Temple of Zeus and then made our way back on the 16:50 bus in time for departure.
Port 6 - Naples. At first we tried to get a taxi to the train station but this was impossible as the drivers only wanted to do longer journeys or full day tours. We therefore decided to take the 15 minute walk to the station and then took the 1 hour train journey to Sorrento. After a walk around the lovely town, we took the short bus ride to Positano for €7.20 return and had a thoroughly lovely day. Both towns are well worth seeing!
The things we particularly liked about this cruise were; the staterooms (very spacious compared to other lines and lots of thoughtful touches). The lawn (great for laying on during busy sea days at the pool). No announcements (very annoying on other cruiselines). Beverage stations (well placed and available 24 hours a day with a good selection). Oceanview Cafe (being able to sit outdoors at the stern to take meals). Leaving and re-boarding the ship (extremely organized and trouble-free). The Champagne Brunch - this was a far better idea than the midnight buffet and the food was scrumptious (best food of the cruise).
The things we didn't like were; the pool deck (far too small for the number of guests and no control whatsoever of rule-breakers). The food in general was very disappointing. We'd heard so many people say how superior the food on Celebrity was and we were left very under-whelmed by the MDR and by the evening buffet. The chairs in the MDR were the worst I have ever come across. They were far too big and heavy and on a long table it was impossible to get in and out without causing a big spectacle every time. I honestly think that wooden benches would have been more suitable than these hideous things. The biggest and most disappointing aspect of the whole cruise (and one which may stop me ever booking another Celebrity cruise) was the staff's complete unwillingness to 'control' the rulebreaking and complete ignorance of other guests. The whole pool deck was one big chaos with tens of unused sunbeds being blocked by towels and bags, children completely over-taking the outdoor pools (including the adult-only one) and a lack of staff-presence in general around this area.
As a final summary, although I enjoyed most things about this cruise, I found nothing at all which in my opinion made Celebrity stand out over any other cruise line I have sailed with. If in future I was considering booking a cruise and an identical cruise was being offered by Celebrity and Royal Caribbean, I would most likely choose RCI. I hope that the Silhouette manages to resolve the blatantly obvious failings as she is a beautiful ship and deserves better.